Thursday, March 31, 2011

Camp Couture, Days Four and Five

Wow, all the days are really blending into each other. The picture above sums it up nicely. This is me taking a break from sewing to document things. I've been dubbed "the roving reporter."

I'm making nice progress on my coat. One major accomplishment was setting in my sleeves. Susan brought this French sleeve head called "cigarette." (She sells it on her website.) It feels like a fuzzy little animal and it adds a nice, subtle loftiness to a sleeve cap.

Susan brought in more fabulous garments for us to inspect. Here's the Chanel-style jacket from her legendary Threads article. I tried it on and it feels amazing. Is there anything more luxurious than a quilted charmeuse lining?

I love this linen high-waisted skirt. Look at the boning inside the waistband!

Lastly, Anna's corselette is looking amazing. This is going inside a charmeuse strapless gown for her daughter's prom.

Only one day left and I'm already having separation anxiety from my fellow students and our fearless leader. I'm traveling back to New York late Thursday night and going back to work Friday morning, so my next update may be delayed by me adjusting back to regular life. Sigh.

What a week. Thanks for reading, campers!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Announcing My Television Debut!

Hey, remember my little secret trip a few weeks ago? I can now reveal my mysterious whereabouts! I was actually traveling to Cleveland to be on the new PBS show It's Sew Easy! I won the spot after entering the BurdaStyle talent search (see my audition here). I have a guest post on the BurdaStyle blog today giving a behind-the-scenes peek at my experience; I hope you'll swing by and give it a read. The show will air sometime this summer. I'll keep you updated!

Camp Couture, Day Three

Are we really halfway done? I was in this luxurious head space where it felt like I would be here forever. Now, time seems to be flying by. I spent today basting, un-basting, stitching, re-basting, and setting in some gorgeous sleeves. I got to see my coat all put together, and I love it. I also decided that the color of my fabric is "parakeet blue." Alas, I can't really show you much more of it since I want it to be a surprise in the book. But I can show you my classmates!

Do you know Robin and Gigi? I hope so; they are fabulous seamstresses and bloggers, and just plain fun to be around. Isn't this shot of the two of them cute? You can just see what a good time they're having.
Robin's making a bolero out of this beautiful guipure lace, underlined with chiffon. Gigi is sewing a va-va-voom strapless dress that she swears will stand up on its own once she's put the boning in it. I believe her!

We named Barb "Baster of the Year." Have you ever seen such lovely stitches?

Jean is making an amazing lace jacket with a sand-colored charmeuse underlining. She seamed the lace by hand, and the stitching is completely undetectable.
That's the news today from Camp Couture. More to come!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Camp Couture, Day Two

Another fabulous couture day out here in the wilds of Baltimore! I'm really slumming it here at the Crowne Plaza surrounded by fabulous fabrics and gorgeous dresses. Don't worry about me too much, I did remember the bubble bath.

Yesterday I got my coat underlinings all cut out (muslin for my coat bodice, silk organza for the sleeves and skirt). So today I could jump right into fabric cutting. Here's my underlining laid out on my wool.

I think one of my biggest lightbulb moments so far was finally understanding the importance of the seamline (as opposed to seam allowance) in couture sewing. The seamline is all that matters, and the seam allowance doesn't actually need to be even! You start with a muslin on which you mark the seam line with wax tracing paper, and then cut around the piece, giving yourself an approximate 1" seam allowance. When you baste the seams together, you match the seamlines, making sure that they're pinned precisely on each side.

The process is repeated when you transfer your markings to your underlinings. Check out this piece, for instance. The waistline got adjusted during my fitting, but there's no need to fuss around with the seam allowance. See how there's less of a seam allowance on the left than the right? Look at the purple arrows.

That's all good, as long as I cut out roughly an inch out from the seamline.

I'm trying to make a point of watching others work on their projects as well. Three ladies are making strapless dresses, which I've been following eagerly. Here's a pic from a demo of making boning channels in an inner corselette.

I'm currently working on basting the entire coat together by hand. Madness. When I suggested I do it by machine, Susan just gave me a pointed, raised eyebrow. There's no machine basting at Camp Couture!

More to come, friends.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Camp Couture, Day One

Readers, I'm reporting live from Baltimore! I've just finished my first day of Susan Khalje's six-day couture sewing school. And what a day it was! We spent some time getting to know each other (it's a truly lovely group of ten women), had our muslins fitted by Susan (an absolute dream), went fabric shopping, and made some good headway cutting our underlinings.

Susan is delightful; there's no other way to put it. Here she is with "bone-a-rama" (tee hee!), her very impressive carrying case for spiral steel boning.
She has it in pre-tipped lengths from 2 to 16 inches! (You can purchase on her website.)
Susan brought a suitcase full of samples for us to examine. It reminded me of the dress-up box I had as a little girl. Fabulous, fabulous stuff. You'll probably recognize some of it from Threads magazine and Susan's book Bridal Couture.

The shopping was done at A Fabric Place. I had brought all my fabric with me, but . . . they had some amazing finds. I couldn't resist this emerald French lace, and bought enough to make a pencil skirt.

It reminds me of this dress that Scarlett Johansson wore last year.

Anyway, it's been a wonderful day. I can't tell you how glad I am that I decided to do this. And I'm giddy that I have 5 more days to go. More to come!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Elusive 50s-Style Shoe

I've been thinking a lot about shoes lately. (Nothing new there, I guess.) It strikes me as interesting that when we talk about retro shoes, we often seem to mean those influenced by the 30s and 40s: t-straps, babydoll pumps, wedge sandals, etc.—even if we favor fashions of the 50s. I personally tend to pair 50s inspired clothes with 40s-style shoes, like platform pumps. But the most popular shoe of the early to mid 50s was the pointed-toe stiletto, a shape that strikes me as very modern. (And sometimes, unfortunately, very 80s.)

But the research I've been doing into 50s stilettos has turned up some real beauties, like the pink satin pair above. They were designed by Roger Vivier for Dior. According to the V&A and this excellent article, Vivier is credited with inventing both the stiletto and the comma heel, pictured below.

The comma heel is quite unusual even to the modern eye, but isn't it amazing that the stiletto heel didn't exist until the 50s? The silk pair below are from Herbert Levine, another classic and coveted brand of the 1950s.

The shape seems so timeless now. Interestingly, though, it's quite difficult to find shoes that emulate that curvy stiletto shape of the 50s (believe me, I've looked through pages and pages of shoes looking for something similar). Our heels are much more straight and columnar now. The closest I could find were these:

See the curvy shape of the heel?

I do love this look, though I can't say I see myself wearing something like this regularly. I love round-toe pumps with a bit of a platform for comfort. And if I'm doing a moderate amount of walking (which is pretty much everyday since I live in New York and don't have a car), I opt for flats to get me to and from the office.

What do you think of the 50s stiletto shape? Any recommendations for comfort and where to find a good modern equivalent? Please share!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Your Sewing Machine's Overlock Stitch

Did you know that most regular sewing machines have a special overlock stitch that mimics a serger's stitch? It's true! My Bernina has one, and so have the Pfaff and Brother machines I've sewn on.

Most people without a serger use pinking or zigzagging to finish their edges, sometimes without even knowing they have an overlock stitch on their sewing machines. What makes this stitch different from a zigzag is that it has a special foot with a little pin that helps the stitch wrap around the raw edge of the fabric. It uses more thread and can be pretty slow-going, but it's very secure.

Here's the top view of the stitch on my Bernina 1008, in pink thread. The bobbin thread is yellow.

And here's the back. See how the thread wraps around the raw edge?

This is what the stitch icon looks like on my machine.

Your machine will have a special foot for the overlock function. On a Bernina it looks like this:

The red arrow points to the pin, which you align with the raw edge of your fabric. The pin keeps the fabric flat and allows the thread to wrap around it.

Since my serger needs to go to the shop, I used my overlock stitch to finish the raw edges of some fabric before pre-shrinking it in the dryer. The overlocked edge held up just as beautifully as a serged edge does!

Do you use an overlock stitch?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Packing Up for Camp Couture

Image via
Exciting news, readers: I'm going to sewing camp! Okay, not really. It's actually Susan Khalje's 6-day Couture Sewing School in Baltimore, which I've privately been calling Camp Couture. There's a lot of prep to do before I leave Friday evening: making my muslin, packing up my beeswax and hair canvas, that sort of thing. I've decided to work on the coat project that will be in my book: a beautiful full-skirted frock coat in lovely turquoise wool flannel, inspired by a 50s pattern. That way I get to enjoy the week of learning and also accomplish steps towards my book deadline. Win-win!

I'm especially excited that the work room in the hotel will be open around the clock. I'm going to pack up some other book projects and sew like the wind. That is, if I'm not too tired from soaking up all the couture knowledge. Heck, I might end up just spending my evenings enjoying the bath tub and watching America's Next Top Model reruns or something.

It feels a little strange to be taking so much time off work to go do something like this, but also very satisfying to spend my time and money on something so important to me. Have you ever taken a sewing vacation?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tea Length: Yea or Nay?

Readers, I have spent a lot of time shortening vintage patterns from tea length to just-below-knee length. I think I'm even on record as saying that tea length is the most unflattering skirt length possible. But I'm experiencing a change of heart lately. Specifically, since Hailee Steinfeld wore this lovely Marchesa to the Oscars. How adorable is she? Tea length, where have you been all my life? Ah yes, I've been chopping you off all my patterns. My bad.

Some other awesome ladies showing how vintage tea length is done. (You know, I think it needs a cooler name. Champagne length? Rock star length?)

And, of course, the dress that's launched a million tea-length fantasies:
The closest I've ever come to tea length is my yellow dress, which, at a 26" skirt length, is only about 2" longer than I usually go. That's like tea length for wusses.
I think part of my issue is footwear. The longer length really looks better with high heels (emphasis on high), don't you think? So this requires planning ahead. Not just holding up a skirt to you while barefoot in your sewing room, deciding it looks frumpy, and chopping 3 more inches off.

If you like this length, you're certainly not at a loss for patterns. Besides true vintage patterns, re-issues are abundant in tea length. (Though I stand by my earlier suggestion that Vogue offer two variations of their Vintage line in each pattern: one in the original length, and one in a more modern length. Wouldn't that be awesome?)
Vogue 1172

Also, if any of you are getting married, you should totally wear tea-length, like this amazing design. I missed my chance! (Sniff.)
Okay, readers. Thoughts on tea length dresses: yea or nay?

Monday, March 21, 2011

This Pretty Much Sums It Up

My life, that is. Fabric, glorious fabric! It's especially appropriate that these tubs have taken the place on the wall where I usually photograph my finished garments. You see, I've been in the thick of making the patterns for my book, testing them, and getting ready to stitch them up in these lovely fabrics. So of course I haven't had a moment to make anything to actually model. I hope the sight of this fabric bounty will make up for that a little.

The super exciting thing is that B&J Fabrics is providing all the fabric for the book. They are my absolute favorite store in New York's Garment District, and they've been generous beyond belief. They're even cataloging all the fabrics I'm using online so that you can order the same once the book comes out! In the meantime, I highly recommend their Liberty of London section, which is the largest Liberty selection online.

Here's Pip guarding the fabric. She knows the good stuff when she sees it. 

So yeah. Life is good over here. What have you all been sewing?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Op/Ed: Being Left-Brained and Creative

Hey all, and welcome back to my Op/Ed column! This is a friendly little space where readers can respond with alternate views to posts I've written. I'm very happy to introduce Caroline, who has a unique take on the right brain/left brain dichotomy.

First of all, many thanks to Gertie for letting me join the conversation! I'm a long-time reader of the blog, so I am delighted to share my thoughts on the idea of left/right brain approaches and

Though my education was in the humanities, I have always considered myself more left-brained than right-brained. Both statistics and geometry fascinated me in school and I soon grew to appreciate geometry more as I delved deeply into knitting and sewing. I saw the structures and mathematical basis for socks, for example, in the excellent book Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy, as a framework for
creative projects.

Some crafting people have the talent of looking at a picture of a finished project, finding inspiration, and improvising their way to a similar object. They don't rely on someone else's clear, detailed directions to tell them how to make it. I have no such luck! While thinking about Gertie's post, I realized that 90% of the projects I decided to wing (instead of following a pattern) ended up either unfinished or taken apart. Personally, I prefer to let someone else do the initial design legwork, whether it's the pattern writing team at Vogue or an indie designer I've found on Ravelry. I may not be working from scratch or my very own brilliant idea, but I still have creative leeway in choosing colors, materials, and sometimes deviating in a small way from the directions. Even as I see my own left-brain-leaning approaches -- basing artistic decisions on established, analytical constructs and thoroughly reviewed data -- I am unconvinced that being left-brained makes me inevitably less creative or even that left/right tendencies have to be either/or. Still, I do wonder whether others consider relying on someone else's designs to be less impressive than designing projects out of pure brainstorming.

Essentially, I take joy in the architecture that underpins the design and supports the more nebulous creative aspect of handicrafts. I'd love to hear more thoughts from folks who consider themselves left-brained or who are somewhat disinclined to deviate too far from instructions. Can or should we draw value assumptions on following directions versus venturing into uncharted crafting territory?

A resident of Atlanta, Caroline enjoys Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reading too many books, and knitting Aran sweaters during the summer. You can follow her on Twitter and her blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stop the Presses! I Have to Brag on Jeff.

Readers, Jeff's book cover has been revealed! And it's smashing! And it has a big, amazing quote from Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games trilogy) at the top! She says, "The Eleventh Plague hits disturbingly close to home . . . An excellent, taut debut novel."

I'm so excited for him that I just can't write about sewing today. Having watched him work tirelessly on this book for the last few years, it's amazing to see it go out into the world with such a bang.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that you can pre-order a copy here. (It releases in September.) All royalties will benefit the purchase of pretty things and fancy dinners for me. Kidding! (Sort of.)

Yay, Jeff!
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